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Showing posts from April, 2018

Suzan-Lori Parks Comes to A.C.T.

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By Simon Hodgson
Suzan-Lori Parks reached down to the black case beside her chair and took out her guitar. “It’s about listening in,” she said, gesturing with her free hand. On the 8th floor of A.C.T.’s administrative offices at 30 Grant Avenue, three dozen young actors from the M.F.A. Program leaned in, watching the strings, waiting for the notes. Slowly, the playwright and songwriter of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) started a steady rhythm, light and even. 
“When I was in rehearsal for Father Comes Home,” she said, fingers still strumming the strings, “I was playing the musician [the role currently played by Bay Area musician Martin Luther McCoy at The Geary]. I was watching Odyssey Dog and thinking, ‘What am I hearing?’” She mimed a dog’s back paw reaching up to scratch its ear, then changed the guitar rhythm to an uptempo beat. A moment later, the students’ smiles broadened, as Parks added verses to the guitar notes in an impromptu performance that ended in c…

A Homecoming: The First Rehearsal of A.C.T.'s Father Comes Home from the Wars

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By Taylor Steinbeck
When the cast and creative team of Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3) flew in to San Francisco from Yale Repertory Theatre last week, their meet and greet at A.C.T. was more like a reunion than a first rehearsal. In a case of life imitating art, A.C.T. and Yale Rep’s co-production of Suzan-Lori Parks's Father Comes Home—beginning performances tomorrow at The Geary Theater—is a homecoming story not just for the characters in the play, but also for the artists involved.
Actors Steven Anthony Jones (The Oldest Old Man) and Gregory Wallace (Odyssey Dog), who were both a part of A.C.T.’s core acting company for several years, were reunited with their old stomping ground. For director Liz Diamond, this production has been an opportunity to collaborate with her longtime friend A.C.T. Artistic Director Carey Perloff and to return to Suzan-Lori Parks’s work. “I spent many of my formative years as a theater artist working with Suzan-Lori Parks,” said Dia…

Rewriting the Narrative: How Vietgone Reclaims Vietnamese Representation

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By Taylor Steinbeck
From Platoon (1986) to the Rambo series (1982–2008) to Miss Saigon (1989), “the main protagonist is always a white guy going to Vietnam and [the] Vietnamese are the bad guys being shot at or they are the people who need saving,” said playwright Qui Nguyen in a 2016 Rolling Stone interview. So Nguyen created Vietgone as an antidote to the “white savior” tale. Its characters are proudly Vietnamese and fully capable of saving themselves. By giving his characters dimension and agency, Nguyen attempts to reclaim how Vietnamese people have been represented on stage and screen, and makes them the heroes of their own story.
In Miss Saigon, “Vietnam is a place not worth saving, and America is a holy grail worth killing and dying for,” writes journalist Diep Tran in her American Theatre magazine article “I Am Miss Saigon, and I Hate It.” The protagonist of the musical, Vietnamese bargirl Kim, kills herself so that the father of her child—an American G.I.—will take her son wit…

Wearing Many Hats: The A.C.T. Fellowship Project 2018

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By Taylor Steinbeck

For over six months, 13 young theater artists from various departments of A.C.T.’s Fellowship Program have come together to produce not one, but two plays in a project that will culminate in performances this week. Running April 19–22 at A.C.T.’s Costume Shop, the production features the work of Obie Award–winning playwrights Caryl Churchill and José Rivera with Far Away and Brainpeople, respectively. Both these plays tackle war, fear, and oppression through a dystopian lens, speaking volumes about the world we live in today. In celebration of this project marking the fifth consecutive year of the Fellowship Project, we spoke to some of this year's fellows about their experiences.

Nora Zahn (Director of Far Away): Being a part of this project from beginning to end has taught me a ton, especially when it comes to all the tiny details that go into making a production happen at an institutional theater! From changing the smallest phrases in fundraising letters to fi…

From Hip-Hop to Martial Arts: An Interview with Vietgone and Begets Playwright Qui Nguyen Part Two

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By Michael Paller

Growing up in Arkansas with Vietnamese refugee parents, Qui Nguyen loved hip-hop, action movies, and comic books. So when he began writing plays, he filled them with these passions: martial arts in Begets: Fall of a High School Ronin, superheroes in Men of Steel, and zombies in Alice in Slasherland. Many of these works were written for Nguyen’s Obie Award–winning “geek theater” company, Vampire Cowboys. We caught up with Nguyen in anticipation of his takeover of A.C.T.'s Strand Theater this upcoming week—Vietgone is playing in The Rembe and Begets is playing in The Rueff—to talk to the man behind the work. This is Part Two.

Taking Up Space: An Interview with A.C.T. Community Member Cheri Miller

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By Taylor Steinbeck
While A.C.T. was founded on three pillars—dynamic productions, actor training, and community engagement—the last of those keystones often merits more celebration. Cheri Miller is a Detroit-born, San Francisco–based performer who acted in A.C.T.’s Education & Community Programs’ 2016 collaborative production, Crack. Rumble. Fly.: The Bayview Studies Project. After working for more than a decade in a series of different industries, Miller fell in love with acting and first got involved with A.C.T. in 2013. A tireless advocate of theater arts and social justice, Miller is a great example of a theater-maker using her talent and passion to create. We sat down with Miller to talk about taking chances, taking classes, and taking up space. 
Why did you decide to get so involved with A.C.T.?

When I made my stage debut in 2013 on the A.C.T. Stage Coach for Juneteenth, I remember Tyrone Davis [the former A.C.T. Community Artistic Director] saying, “You’re family now.” When p…

The Fusion of Physics and Theater in Simon Stephens's Heisenberg

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By Elspeth Sweatman

At first glance, science and theater may seem like chalk and cheese. These two fields, however, have been intimately connected for centuries. As Renaissance scientists such as Galileo, Copernicus, and da Vinci were discovering new aspects of our world, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century playwrights were referencing these discoveries in their works.

The protagonist of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus embraces the Renaissance spirit of scientific exploration to his own detriment, and Subtle, one of the three conmen in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist, relies on the cutting-edge (and spurious) science of alchemy—transforming base metals into gold—to trick the wealthy Sir Epicure Mammon. Since these early depictions of science and scientists onstage, playwrights have used the latest scientific innovations as metaphors, a means of investigating life’s big questions, such as “how we know what we know, how identity is constructed, what the ethical choice is in an immoral si…

Found in Translation: How Language Works in Qui Nguyen's Vietgone

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By Taylor Steinbeck 

Like many Americans, Vietgone playwright Qui Nguyen grew up watching Hollywood Vietnam War films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, but he struggled to identify with the Vietnamese characters because of how they were written. The characters often speak in an accented, pidgin English that is used either as a joke, or to exoticize them. In Full Metal Jacket, American soldiers Private Joker and Private Rafterman are approached by a Da Nang sex worker, played by Anglo Chinese actress Papillon Soo Soo. She convinces the men to pay for her services by saying, “Me so horny. Me love you long time.” This line has since become engrained in American pop culture, referenced in television series including Family Guy and South Park, and sampled in the rap hits 2 Live Crew’s “Me So Horny” and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” The depiction of Vietnamese characters in this way is damaging because they are presented as alien—caricatures with which audiences are not intend…